You’re probably thinking that respect is a given in Japan. But I quickly found one place where it was lacking. It was at a playground. Oops. It was not a playground though it seemed to be. Rather, it was a tanki daigaku.
In order to return to Kyoto in 1978, I needed a Japanese person to act as my hoshōnin. Luckily, I’d made some friends at Honyarado, the hippie kissaten that was the plague of our study abroad program since we kept getting a little too involved with the staff and friends of staff—and there were rumors that they were involved in all kinds of underground activities (and I know the truth, but I’m not telling…yet.) But. I made at least one lifelong friend there and he was a professor at a junior college within walking distance of my apāto in Midorogaike. He said I should audit classes there.
Back then, Seika College was a two-year school, primarily for joshidaisei. Nowadays, it is a proper daigaku with a daigakuin and special programs for foreigners. But back then I was only the second foreign auditor, they said.
I ended up taking four different classes. I will speak about two of them here. The sensei was quite famous and had authored some books. It was unbelievable to have access to such an esteemed and knowledgeable professor. His name was Hidaka Rokuro and I took a Sociology class and shisōshi with him. They were both large lecture courses.
Now, in America, if you wanted to talk or sleep during a lecture class, you’d normally choose to sit in the back. Right? But these joshidaigakusei were audacious. They’d be chatting away while sitting in the front row, to the extent that Hidaka sensei would sometimes apologetically ask them to tone it down. That would work for about gofun.
There were only two times that he got the full attention and admiration of the class.
The first time was when there was a giant mukade in the room. Shrieks filled the air and Hidaka sensei calmly walked over and killed it. Everyone was impressed. I mean, it was HUGE.
[I was going to put an image here, but aren’t you glad I spared you?]
The second time was when he was talking about his war experiences. Nobody cared about that until he mentioned that during the war they did not have shampoo so they washed their hair with soap. Suddenly everyone was listening as he extolled the virtues of soap as shampoo. Because… Hidaka-sensei had a glorious full head of healthy looking hair. He was living proof of what he was talking about.
I studied his books and the pages are filled with my notes. His lectures were sadly above my true language abilities of the time, but I got a taste for some alternative history and a deeper understanding of what the radicals of the time were preaching.
- tanki daigaku – 短期大学 junior or two-year college
- hoshōnin – 保証人 to stay in Japan on a cultural or student visa you needed a Japanese person to ask as your guaranteer.
- Honyaradō – ほんやら洞 a famous coffee shop that a bunch of hippies built in 1973. It burned down, sadly, in January, 2015.
- kissaten – 喫茶店 coffee shop, not cafe. Old-style!
- apāto – アパート apartment
- joshidaisei – 女子大生 female college students. Calling them “coeds” as we used to do in America would be the right kind of feel for this word.
- daigaku – 大学 university or college
- daigakuin – 大学院 graduate school
- sensei – 先生 don’t we all know this is teacher, thanks to the martial arts?
- shisōshi – 思想史 literally the history of thought. I guess ideology works for a translation.
- gofun – 五分 five minutes. Go is five and fun is minutes. However, fun changes in combination depending on which number it is used with. (You need either a teacher or a textbook to understand why this is.)
- mukade – ムカデ millipede. Apparently they are NOT poisonous like centipedes are but I assure you there is not a scarier looking bug around. I once found one in my futon and I deserted my lodgings for three days due to the shock of it. Really.
4 thoughts on “Respect”
I love this! It makes me want to travel and live in other countries again. It reminds me of when I took a Quechua class in Peru and I was the only non-Peruvian!
My daughter did a semester in Peru and loved it. Other than the possibility of eating a guinea pig!
Wow, shocking lack of respect for the sensei! And so sad nobody cared about his war stories, but then that’s my thing…
I couldn’t believe how they’d chat right under his nose! So brazen! If I were younger, I’d want to be translating his books. It was such a privilege to audit his classes, but I’d be frantically looking up every other word in the dictionary. There were about five or six students, I think, that truly appreciated him. The rest…. sigh….